Exercise (or Lack Thereof) and the Home Office Lawyer
A common casualty of the home office is exercise. This may seem counter intuitive – after all, shouldn’t the home office lawyer have more opportunity to exercise than the lawyer who is stuck in the rat race of commuting? Well, it ain’t necessarily so. As one who works from a home office myself, let me explain why and offer some suggestions for what to do about it.
Problem #1 for the home office lawyer is the very lack of a commute. Consider the urban commuter. He or she scurries from home to train and then from train to office, often achieving a good half hour of fast-paced walking before ever starting work. At lunch, there is the run to find food and squeeze in personal errands. Throughout the day, the lawyer is in and out to meetings, up and down the halls to the conference room or the copier or the coffee maker. They don’t call it the rat race for nothing — it is a day of frequent running around.
Now consider the home office lawyer. In my case, my morning commute consists of a walk from the bedroom to the coffee maker to my office. Once in my office, unless I have business elsewhere, I am often glued to my desk for hours at a time. When I do have business outside the office, I am more likely to drive than to walk. The home office lifestyle, in short, is a sedentary one.
Problem #2 for the home office lawyer is the absence of a defined work day. The popular image of the home office worker is of someone who is the commander of his or her time. The fact is that working from home can blur all distinction between work time and free time. There is no clear start or end. That glowing computer screen constantly beckons. The ringing phone is always audible.
In my case, I believe that I work many more hours by working from home than I would if I were commuting to an office. It is not just me driving myself to do this. It is also my clients. Knowing that I work from home, they expect me to be reachable at all sorts of crazy hours. The math here is simple: the more hours you work, the fewer hours you have to exercise.
One final problem for the home office lawyer, I think, is guilt. Fearing that a home-office professional might be perceived as a less-professional professional, the home office worker is driven to disprove that notion. This is related to my previous point about the lack of a defined workday but different. Home office workers often leave their noses on the grindstone longer than their office-dwelling compatriots in order to prove their mettle. Whether they are justified or not in feeling they must do that, the victim, yet again, is exercise.
Tips for Squeezing in Daily Exercise
So what to do about this state of affairs? How can a lawyer work from home without becoming unhealthy and overweight? I’m no fitness guru, for sure, but I do have some tips based on what works for me.
1. Make time every day. At some point I came to the realization that I was using work artificially as a justification not to exercise. I needed to squeeze in another hour of writing. I had all those emails to sort through. There were calls I needed to make. Bullcrap. In fact, that extra hour of work would often be my least productive – OK, I’ll admit it: it was often entirely unproductive.
Now it is only on the rarest and most hectic of days that I do not find time to exercise. Everyone needs to find how best to fit fitness into their own schedules. For me, mornings are when my mind is sharpest and my body is still dragging. By late afternoon, my mind is turning to mush and my body is craving activity. Working around my calendar, I find at least an hour every afternoon or early evening to rest my mind and exercise my body.
2. Mix it up. One advantage of a home office, I find, is the ability to mix up my exercise. That keeps it from getting boring or feeling like a routine. In cold weather, I ride a stationary bike in my house or head to the local gym to use the treadmill or elliptical. In warm weather, I jump on my bike or go for a long walk. (A long-ago injury rules out running.)
Just as I try to diversify my exercise, I try to diversify what I do while I exercise. Most often, I listen to podcasts, tune into news broadcasts (TuneIn is a great app for listening to radio on your mobile phone) or catch up on new music. Lately, I’ve found that an e-book is the perfect companion while I ride the stationary bike. In this way, I get a mental, as well as a physical, break from work.
3. Don’t be a desk potato. When I started working from home, a friend who had done the same gave me this advice: Pretend you have to commute. Her routine was to act as if she had an office to walk to. Every morning, she would walk to work, by leaving her apartment and walking a circular route that ended back at her apartment.
I didn’t take her up on that advice. I do, however, try to at least stand as often as I can during the day. If I’m on the phone, I’m probably standing. Sometimes, I place my laptop on an elevated surface and work standing. Although I do not yet have one, I crave a height-adjustable desk, the kind that lifts easily from sitting to standing height, allowing you to vary your position throughout the day. Some swear by their treadmill desks.
4. Make no excuses or apologies. Exercise is as essential as working. Yes, you need to make a living. But if your health fails, all the money in the world won’t bring it back. For me, exercise is at the top of my to-do list every day. I used to worry that taking time to exercise distracted from my work. I now believe that it enhances it – that it makes me more productive overall because I feel better mentally and physically.
Something else I’ve noticed. Whereas I once might have been reluctant to say to a client or colleague, “Not now, I need to go to the gym,” I now find that, when I say that, the person is apt to respond, “Great, I’m about to head there myself.”
As great as it is to work from a home office, it can be a disincentive to exercise. My advice is that you carve out time every day for a full workout and thread your day with smaller activities that get you on your feet and away from your desk. After all, isn’t that at least part of why you decided to work from home in the first place?
Image credit: This Old House